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  • Writer's pictureErin DiMaggio

Kindness Makes Me Cry

Have you ever been in a women's circle or a safe space where you felt the urge to cry? What did you do? Did you hold back or let it flow?

Crying is a neuronal connection between the tear duct and the areas of the human brain involved with emotion. It is a natural response to certain feelings, usually sadness and hurt. But why is it that some people cry easily, whereas others never shed a tear?

Just the other day when I was speaking with an acquaintance about something I have been struggling with in my parenting journey, I started to cry. She was confused by my reaction. She thought she had given me a great solution to my dilemma, and she had. What she didn't realize was it was the empathy she gave me that opened my heart and made me cry.

Most people get uncomfortable when they see a grown woman cry. I know because I am often that woman. I cry easily, but only when people are kind to me.

And, then there are those times where most people would cry like when they are getting bullied or beaten, but that hasn't been my experience. I remember one day when I was maybe 11 years. I was standing in front of the open basement door. The staircase was painted fire-engine-red. On the edge of each step, there was a silver metal strip nailed to it. I assume, because of the ridges on them, they were intended to prevent someone from slipping. I can't remember why my father and I were fighting that day. All I remember was the rage I saw in his eyes when I refused to acquiesce to his demands. I yelled at him, "You are not the boss of me." Something in that exchange triggered him to a place he had spent a lifetime running away from. He yelled back at me, "I am your father."

Then, in a sudden fit of anger, he pushed me. I went tumbling down the stairs. The metal cut into my back as I smashed from one step to the next. I hit the floor at the bottom. He came hobbling down after me. He knew what he had done was wrong, but he could not undo it. He went to help me up. I slapped his arm away from me with my hand. I stood up, looked him in the eye, and I raged back at him, "If you ever hurt me again, I will kill you!" Tears filled his eyes, and he sorrowfully said, "I am so sorry."

I got up. I walked back up the stairs, and we never spoke about it again. He doesn't know this, but I forgave him. I felt responsible because I intentionally challenged him. I told him he didn't matter and that I knew more than him. I know these are all things we say or think when we are teenagers, but I could have been kind. I could have listened. I could have walked away. We both could have done things differently that day.

Could 've's are a waste of energy, but they are always available for us to grow and learn from if we choose to see it the way. And, more than anything they are there for us to have empathy and understanding of the human condition. The good news is, when life throws us a similar situation, we have an opportunity to write a new script.

I learned from that experience with my Dad that I could always fight back, and that is okay and sometimes, necessary. I knew that when push came to shove if I got knocked down, I could get back up. And, I also learned the art of forgiveness.

I realize now looking back, and with all that I know about trauma and the repetition of violence in one generation to the next, it's a miracle that he never hurt me more than what he did that day. But, the fascinating thing to me is that I didn't cry that day; not one tear.

There is a simple explanation for this. Like my father, I was responding from a primal instinct to fight. My body surged with the kind of hormones that enable us to act in ways that are in a non-stress situation are almost impossible. Adrenaline and noradrenaline surged through my body and made my blood pressure boil and my muscles and my heart hard.

My first instinct with my Dad was to fight back. Not only is it my first inclination, but it's a universal response that most species have when they feel threatened. While some people choose to run away, others are naturally wired to go on attack mode, and it all depends on the paradigms that we see and adopt from a very early age.

We are primally wired for survival; wired to either fight, freeze, or run away. But as we have evolved from animals to cave dwellers and into human beings with a spiritual center, we can train our nervous system to respond differently when the situation calls for it.

Anger is a mask to protect our heart from sadness. We feel powerful when we rage and weak when we cry. But we can feel differently about both if we train our mind to do better.

When a child or anyone challenges our authority, our purpose, our influence, and our power, it can trigger our Fight or Flight Response or what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the "Pain Body." The pain-body is where we have stored our trauma. Often our pain is stored in the subconscious memory. When we feel triggered by someone else's behavior, usually, beneath the trigger is a memory that needs healing and a belief system that needs tweaking.

When a child challenges our authority, questions our worth, or refuses to listen to sound-logic, we can find ourselves over-identifying with the ego and remembering for ourselves what it felt like to be a child without any control.

In my father's case, my behavior triggered his unresolved wounds and his patriarchal views of fatherhood. I dared to disobey him, and he reacted from a primal ancestral impulse that he had repeatedly seen throughout his life.

There is a way to change these primal responses. It takes effort and what is known as the "dosing effect." The dosing effect is the theory that the more you get of something, the more you can change the outcome." If you grew up in a household where there was fighting all of the time, then you need to surround yourself with daily doses of love, affection, and kindness!

Today, I got dosed unexpectedly with a medicinal balm of kindness when a friend of mine called to check in on me and see if I was okay. Before her call, I was fighting internally with myself and wondering if I was a good enough parent. I am raising a teen and tween now and parenting in a whole new paradigm than the one I grew up in, but sometimes I question whether or not I am doing enough to prepare them for the "real world." As I heard the love and empathy in my friend's voice, I stopped fighting with myself, let down my guard, and I started to cry.

She didn't tell me, "Don't cry." Instead, she listened deeply and sweetly. She validated my feelings. She acknowledged my pain. She held a space for me, and then, I started to cry even more. And, then, when I was ready, she offered to help me in any way I needed.

When we are in a safe circle and a supportive environment, we drop our defenses, our blood pressure automatically lowers, our heart rate decreases, our adrenaline settles, and we physically and biologically soften.

I started to think about how I could apply kindness to all of the places that hurt to bring more profound healing to myself and my family. It was through her random act of kindness, not a show of tough love, where I felt a deep sense of clarity and greater wisdom to continue the process of parenting from a heart-centered space.

I believe there is a time and place when we need to fight, for example, when our physical safety is in jeopardy. But fighting over who is the boss or reacting from the lower brain areas in response to our children will always do more harm than good. Fighting leads us down that steep and painful staircase with one person standing over the other, leaving one a victim and the other a victor. The only thing that will save us and make life better is kindness, and it has to start at home, one child and parent at a time.

Kindness changes us for the better. It allows us to soften, to open, and to connect. It inspires change. Biologically, it moves us out of our primal "fight or flight" response. Kindness creates an emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin, the love hormone." Oxytocin is the hormone that is released from the brain when a mother nurses her child. It allows a baby to get milk from her mother. Kindness helps us to feel safe, to feel loved, to cry, and ultimately, kindness is the best medicine for everything. I was able to forgive my father on that day because I had also received kindness from him.

Life is a tricky balance of figuring out what is the best response and sometimes we screw up and fall down, but the beauty of life and humanity is that we can get back up, repair the rupture, and learn to walk again.

I think if more people would cry on the battlefield instead of fighting well, then, maybe we would have world peace…we would never end up on the battle field. Instead, we would end up in an open space that knows only love. Just imagine…if we could all feel each other's pain, instead of inflicting more of it onto one another in a field of giants everyone could put down their swords, take off their armor, look one another in the eyes, and have a sob fest and then figure out a win-win solution for all! A girl can dream.

Today, I am choosing to respond with kindness. I am allowing myself to cry, to soften, and to make gentle changes, one soft step at a time.

What random act of kindness will you do today?

Sending you kind vibes from home!

Love Always,

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